Clendinnen, Inga 1934-
CLENDINNEN, Inga 1934-
PERSONAL: Born August 17, 1934, in Geelong, Victoria, Australia; daughter of Thomas William (a cabinet maker) and Catherine (a homemaker; maiden name, Barlow) Jewell; married Frederick John Clendinnen (a philosopher), June 1, 1955; children: Stephen John, Richmond David. Education: University of Melbourne, B.A. (with honors), 1955, M.A., 1975; La Trobe University, D.Litt., 1991. Politics: "Left." Religion: "On the whole, against."
ADDRESSES: Home—30 Childers St., Kew, Victoria 3101, Australia. Office—Department of History, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria 3083, Australia.
CAREER: University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia, tutor, 1956-57, senior tutor in history, 1958-65 and 1968; La Trobe University, Bundoora, Australia, lecturer, 1969-82, senior lecturer, 1982-89, reader in history, 1989-91, emeritus scholar, 1992—. Princeton University, fellow at Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Research, 1983-84; Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, NJ), fellow at School for Historical Studies, 1987; University of Michigan, Arthur H. Aiton Memorial Lecturer, 1987. Forty-first Boyer Lecturer, Australian Broadcasting Company, 1999; and Carson Lecturer, Oregon State University, fall, 2002.
AWARDS, HONORS: Conference on Latin American History Prize, 1981, for the article "Landscape and World View: The Survival of Yucatec Maya Culture Under Spanish Conquest"; Herbert Eugene Bolton Memorial Prize, 1988, for Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1571; prize from Program for Cultural Cooperation, Spanish Ministry of Culture and U.S. Universities, 1989, for Ambivalent Conquests; New South Wales Premier's History Prize, 1999, for Reading the Holocaust. Won a prize for a short story in the early 1990s; Nita Kibble Award for Women's Life Writing, 2001, and Inaugural Award for Innovative Writing, Adelaide Festival, 2002, for Tiger's Eye: A Memoir.
Reading The Holocaust, Text Publishing (Melbourne, Australia), 1998.
True Stories, ABC Books for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (Sydney, Australia), 1999.
Tiger's Eye: A Memoir, Text Publishing (Melbourne, Australia), 2000, Scribner (New York, NY), 2001.
Dancing with Strangers, Text Publishing (Melbourne, Australia), 2003.
Work represented in anthologies, including Disciplines of Faith: Studies in Religion, Politics, and Patriarchy, edited by Jim Obelkevich, Lyndal Roper, and Raphael Samuel, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987; Women, Race, and Writing in the Early Modern Period, edited by Patricia Parker and Margot Hendricks, Routledge, 1992; and War and Society in Early America, edited by John M. Murrin. Contributor to history and anthropology journals. Aztecs has been translated into Spanish and Chinese. Reading the Holocaust has been translated into Portuguese and Hebrew.
SIDELIGHTS: Although Tiger's Eye: A Memoir was Australian historian and writer Inga Clendinnen's fifth book, its deeply personal subject matter makes it a starting point for discussing her work. In 1991, she felt ill, suffering bouts of bleeding, acute fatigue, and stomach pains. Her doctors initially were at a loss as to a diagnosis. According to Jane Wheatley in the Times, one younger physician even told her that she had a problem "relinquishing youth gracefully." Finally a diagnosis came, and it was not pretty: active auto-immune hepatitis, a severe disease of the liver.
By that time, Clendinnen had established an international reputation as a historian with her books Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1571 in 1987 and Aztecs: An Interpretation, published the year she became sick. She ultimately recovered, but in the midst of that difficult period, when she felt certain death was approaching, she began to write stories. "Writing became a desperate enterprise as I clung to the shreds of memory I still had," she told Wheatley. "I wrote to preserve myself." Her recovery was a difficult one, and during the course of it, she underwent long hours of contemplation that led to two later nonfiction works, Reading The Holocaust and True Stories.
The latter of these is the text from a series of six half-hour broadcasts, delivered over ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio National in 1999. Invited to serve as the forty-first Boyer Lecturer, a great honor for Australian writers, she presented a series of historical tales illustrating the nation's past. An exemplary story was drawn from the single surviving letter by Lillie Matthews, a farmer's wife in Victoria in the 1880s who discovered that her husband was participating in attacks on Aborigines not unlike those being perpetrated against American blacks by the Ku Klux Klan at the same time. With these vignettes, wrote Leora Moldofsky in Time International, Clendinnen "asks her listeners and readers to join her in deciding what to make of them, what to feel about them, and finally, what to do about them."
Clendinnen took on human atrocities of a much greater scale in Reading the Holocaust, an unorthodox work that, in the words of Joseph Robert White in History: Review of New Books, "seeks to demythologize the problem of explaining" one of history's greatest crimes. Eschewing what she called the "'Gorgon effect'—the sickening of imagination and curiosity . . . which afflicts so many of us when we try to look squarely at the persons and processes implicated in the Holocaust," she sought to provide understanding of a phenomenon that is extraordinarily well documented but seldom comprehended in its immensity.
In so doing, Clendinnen took issue with the view expressed by prominent Jewish writer Elie Wiesel, that the Holocaust was a phenomenon unique to the Jews. In the words of Milton Goldin in a review on the Web site A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust, it was Clendinnen's position that "the Holocaust is not beyond human comprehension, which is the exact opposite of what most writers on the subject insist. Clendinnen's common sense understanding is if these crimes involved human beings, the Holocaust is surely within human comprehension." To Daphne Merkin in the New York Times Book Review, the book "is not, despite its somewhat generic title, just another book about the Holocaust. It signals, instead, a radical departure point." Reading the Holocaust, wrote White, is "a thoughtful and sophisticated distillation of recent Holocaust scholarship accessible to general readers."
Reading the Holocaust seemed to make the point that there is no true dividing line between the political and the personal, and with Tiger's Eye Clendinnen approached a subject deeply personal: her own illness, from which she had by then recovered. Noting Clendinnen's observation in the book that "Illness casts you out, but it also cuts you free," Kay Hogan Smith in Library Journal maintained that "While this insight may be common among those who have been visited by serious illness, rarely is it delivered with the eloquence and honesty found in this work." A reviewer in Publishers Weekly called the memoir "a rare and original meditation on the construction of the self."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, February, 1993, review of Aztecs: An Interpretation, p. 278.
Americas: A Quarterly Review of Inter-American Cultural History, January, 1993, review of Aztecs, p. 395.
Arena Magazine, December, 1999, Ryan Scott, review of Reading the Holocaust, p. 55.
Australian Book Review, October, 1998, review of Reading the Holocaust, p. 7.
Booklist, July, 2001, Suzanne Young, review of Tiger's Eye, p. 1956.
German Studies Review, May, 2000, Andrew R. Carlson, review of Reading the Holocaust, pp. 378-79.
Guardian (Manchester, England), February 3, 2001, Julie Myerson, review of Tiger's Eye: A Memoir.
History: Review of New Books, winter, 2000, Joseph Robert White, review of Reading the Holocaust, p. 67.
History Today, April, 1999, review of Reading the Holocaust, p. 56.
H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, July, 1999, review of Reading the Holocaust.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1999, review of Reading the Holocaust, p. 191.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, November, 1993, review of Aztecs, p. 37.
Library Journal, July 7, 2001, Kay Hogan Smith, review of Tiger's Eye, p. 113.
New Leader, June 14, 1999, Alvin H. Rosenfeld, review of Reading the Holocaust, p. 22.
New York Times Book Review, April 11, 1999, Daphne Merkin, review of Reading the Holocaust, p. 17; June 6, 1999, review of Reading the Holocaust, p. 40; December 5, 1999, review of Reading the Holocaust, p. 106; August 26, 2001, Mary Gordon, "The Strangest Place to Be: In the Memoir, the Author Reports from the Expansive Continent of the Deathly Ill," review of Tiger's Eye, p. 10; September 2, 2001, review of Tiger's Eye, p. 18; September 9, 2001, review of Tiger's Eye, p. 30.
Publishers Weekly, June 4, 2001, review of Tiger's Eye, p. 69.
Time International, November 22, 1999, Leora Moldofsky, review of True Stories radio broadcasts, p. 60; March 20, 2000, Michael Fitzgerald, review of Tiger's Eye, p. 67.
Times (London, England), January 3, 2001, Iain Finlayson, review of Tiger's Eye, p. 9; January 13, 2001, Jane Wheatley, "Stories from Over the Horizon," p. W-13; January 12, 2002, Fanny Blake, review of Tiger's Eye, p. 16.
Times Literary Supplement, June 11, 1999, review of Reading the Holocaust, p. 32.
William and Mary Quarterly, October, 1995, review of Aztecs, p. 709.
A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust,http://fcit.coedu.usf.edu/ (May 17, 2002), Milton Goldin, review of Reading the Holocaust.